Implementing Zero-Trust on Kubernetes – Container Journal

As a cornerstone of the cloud-native community, Kubernetes empowers enterprises to deploy and manage containers in production environments more efficiently. Although Kubernetes was initially designed with basic security capabilities, broad and rapid adoption and an increasingly sophisticated threat landscape have made Kubernetes more vulnerable to attacks. Developers and security experts are now tasked with extending Kubernetes’ built-in security to effectively protect against cyberattacks that are more complex, volatile and frequent.

The previous “trust but verify” approach has proven ineffective for the complex distributed nature of cloud computing, so Kubernetes must move to the “never trust, always verify” ideology of the zero-trust model to provide greater protection to businesses.

Basic Concepts of the Zero-Trust Model

Rooted in the principles of “never trust, always verify,” the zero-trust model can be explained by three fundamental concepts:

  • Secure network: Always assume that the network is hostile and compromised. Internal and external data and information on the network is constantly exposed to security threats.
  • Secure resources: Any source of information that exists on the network should be viewed with suspicion regardless of the location.
  • Authentication: Users, devices and traffic from internal or external networks should not be trusted by default. Zero-trust should be based on access control using the right authentication and authorization.

Three Best Practices For Zero-Trust

Kubernetes offers flexibility, but this advantage also adds complexity, introducing many configuration options for services and workloads to run in different network environments. Consider the following three best practices of the zero-trust model for Kubernetes deployments to improve security protection and work efficiency.

Optimize Software Configuration and Access Permissions

Teams need to deliver consistent configuration for services and cross-cluster operations. While Kubernetes provides diverse configuration options, a plethora of options increases the chances of security issues. Using the zero-trust framework, organizations can continuously validate and deploy services to multiple clusters without any security compromises. By double-checking these configurations before granting them any security permissions to applications and services, organizations can harden the security of even the most distributed Kubernetes clusters.

Another way to improve Kubernetes security using the zero-trust model is to provide software with only the permissions and capabilities it needs to function. While it’s not always easy to determine the exact permissions and capabilities software will need, a better understanding of these elements will reduce security risks. For a container orchestration environment in the cloud, it is more important to give limited permissions and capabilities compared to local server environments. 

Log and Monitor Data

It’s important to provide essential security data that enables developers and security experts to measure, predict, avoid and defend potential security risks. For example, organizations should log user IDs or group IDs that services recognize, especially for the cluster environment. This ensures organizations are using the required IDs to help service and software teams identify anonymous attacks more quickly. Logging records will also be a key part of the information to offer security traceability in the cloud-native environment.

With sufficient security data, teams can also rethink and optimize their security practices and application updates to cope with the changing technology environment, helping ensure continuous protection from attacks.

Focus on People and Process Management

Besides users and devices from the external network, partners, stakeholders or anyone with access to an organization’s database and containerized applications is a potential Kubernetes security threat. Therefore, training insiders to avoid potential internal threats is essential. Organizations can start by logging and monitoring platform data, as mentioned above, while making all stakeholders aware of the various attack strategies prevalent in the market.

In addition to the proper training, optimizing security processes in day-to-day operations can help support the zero-trust model and minimize the impact of cyberattacks on enterprise services in the cloud. Some recommended security processes include an active review of network management, firewall checklists and regular checks of containers and software images.

Because air-gapped deployments provide a military-grade security level for complex deployment patterns in the cloud, I recommend that organizations combine these operational processes with air-gapped implementations, providing an extra security level for your Kubernetes projects. 

Conclusion

Security can no longer be an afterthought when deploying and managing Kubernetes in production environments. Breaches, disruptions, and data theft are serious cybersecurity issues that can have a detrimental impact on any organization. Zero-trust practices like data and information logging, employee security training and process optimization are effective and practical means of securing Kubernetes projects and IT infrastructure. By implementing these practices, organizations can better secure Kubernetes deployments. Following this zero-trust approach will free developers and operators from worrying about cluster and infrastructure security issues while enabling security teams to focus on security instead of getting lost in Kubernetes configurations.